What solutions are Ofqual looking into for 2021 exam results?


Several measures will need to be applied to exam results in 2021 to maintain fairness Ofqual has admitted, as using comparable outcomes is part of any potential solution.

New research from the exams regulator suggests that the approach would not be able to compensate all pupils for lost learning, potentially creating an uneven playing field.

While the research focuses on maintaining standards and on how learning outcomes can dip following education reform – known as the “sawtooth effect” – it also states that “similar considerations arise” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Ofqual, using comparable outcomes would partly compensate pupils, although its impact could be limited given the pandemic has impacted on different regions to a greater or lesser extent.

“Unfortunately, whereas all learners will be affected in a similar way by a qualification reform, the same will not be true for Covid-19,” the research states.

“It will not be possible to compensate for learning loss in 2021 where this affects some learners far more than others. There is still a case for applying comparable outcomes principle, albeit only as a partial compensation strategy”.

Comparable outcomes are used to ensure that a degree of fairness exists between different year groups, while the use of centre assessed grades in 2020 meant outcomes were inflated.

This is highlighted by the proportion of GCSE grades to achieve a 7 or above this year, which jumped to 27.6% from 21.9% in 2019.

Ofqual has repeatedly said it will look to ensure that exams are as fair as possible in 2021, and chief regulator Dame Glenys Stacey has outlined several potential options.

However, none of these are deemed to be “straightforward” to put into practice and feature “some compromise over technical validity”, although Dame Gladys added that the regulator is looking at the process “subject by subject to see what can feasibly be done”.

In an effort to assure schools and pupils, she said Ofqual is aware of differing levels of lost learning among pupils and that there is an inevitability that some pupils will be disproportionately impacted.

“Please be assured that we do not assume that all students will have the opportunity to be equally well-prepared to face external examinations in summer 2021,” she said.

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